Personal identity, according to John Locke, is a component of what a person stands for. It is made up of a rational and reflective intelligent being who sees himself as himself. It’s a question of psychological consistency. Conscious thinking, which is essential in perceiving what is around them, must include consideration of time and place as part of one’s personal identity.
Personal identity, according to Locke’s account, must be able to satisfy every humanistic sense, including meditation, feel, taste, smell, hear, see, and will, in order to know anything that is current or affects the identity. It is of personal identity own perception that a person calls self although the self may be in the same or divers substance. It is evident that thinking accompanies consciousness and this is what makes everyone unique. The self-identity distinguishes himself from other thinking things which contribute to personal identity. In Locke’s definition of personal identity, one has to consider the sameness of a rational being whose consciousness is attributed to past thought or action. Such characteristics mean that the current self is a quality of previous actions and thoughts which are reflected on the current self. In his discussion, John Locke insists that personal identity is a psychological continuity matter involving consciousness and not a factor of substance either the body or soul.
Locke holds the idea that consciousness can be transmitted from one soul to another as personal identity is intertwined to consciousness. He assumed that, as the body and the brain could change, consciousness remained the same making it the only constant source of identity that cannot be altered. His ideas are highly borrowed from theology and Apocalyptic. Even after death, there is a person who is the same as the one who died.
Having the same consciousness is what makes a man be himself and therefore a requirement for identity. However, consciousness cannot be said to be always continuous especially that individuals may be interrupted by sleep or forgetfulness. For this reason, it cannot be substantiated that the current consciousness is the same as the past knowledge. According to Locke, contents of consciousness of particular experience and qualities have to repeat. For a personal identity to be identified, then one has to have unique events and qualities of consciousness. For this reasons, if two people are conscious of the sum of the same knowledge of the past, then there is no identifiable difference of identity between them. However, this cannot be taken as the truth.
As identity is based on consciousness, where consciousness is a product of thought or circumstance, then it can be assumed that identity is a factor of particular experiences attributed to personal history or memory. When a person is conscious of the John Locke’s memory of 1668, then he or she can claim to be him. Additionally, it lacks meaning to say people are identical if they lack the memory of that particular existence. Locke demands consciousness of personal history for people to be different as otherwise, anyone can assume the identity of someone else by forgetting his or her personal history. Additionally, people are not of the same body even if they resembled each other and had the same conscious life experiences. Most of the people living today do not remember or have conscious memories of when they were five years old or younger and may excuse themselves for not remembering anything about their life. Such occurrence means that if they do not remember, then they are not the same person they were then, or their identity has changed. It represents a significant challenge to Locke’s definition of personal identity as it depends on what a person is conscious of at the moment or what he can remember at that moment.
John Locke psychological theory about personal identity is illogical and circular as it does not recognize that the relation of consciousness presupposes identity. For this reason, consciousness cannot constitute personal identity (Butler). Individuals do not only remember their own memorable experiences but also remember it as it is theirs. For this reason, memory can reveal their identity with some past experiences but cannot make that experience who they are.
John Locke Response to Thomas Reid Objection that Identity Can Only Be Attributed to Things
Thomas Reid was one of the theorists who did not agree with Locke’s memory theory. He was determined to challenge it as an absurdity. Various reasons made him criticise Locke’s theory. Reid had the belief that personal identity could not be determined by changing operations. He found that Locke’s account of personal identity was using confusing evidence. By introducing the officer paradox, Reid attempted to reduce Locke’s Memory theory to farcicality (Ward 58). However, Locke could respond to Reid criticism in various ways. First Reid said that identity should be determined by something that has continued existence. By saying this, then it conforms to Locke’s definition of that personal consciousness continues even after death. It is evident that even after death consciousness does not leave anyone unless that person suffers mental disorders and in such case, it would mean that the new identity is not his.
The second issue criticised by Reid was that Locke used self-confusing evidence to define what personal identity was. Locke did not use confusing evidence and according to his philosophical definition, only failing to examine the evidence critically would make it complicated. For instance, it is not possible to say that self is confusing according to the moment of their life. The evidence is used to define what personal consciousness is. Consciousness is a particular issue which is possessed by everyone, and it would not be possible to differentiate it from that individual. By borrowing from theology, if a person would be able to resurrect after death, then the only thing that would make that person different from others would not be his soul but the consciousness he has in his past.
Reid objected Locke’s theory on the ground that there is no link between identity and ethics. He was the idea that sameness cannot be based on the relation as it changes from time to time. There is not a single person who remains the same from one moment to another. With this assumption, Reid said that people would have more than one identity. In self-consciousness, there is self-concern which should also be addressed in a manner that predicts what personal identity is. Although consciousness is transient and sometimes interrupted, it will always be possible to remember what one was in the past and this would never leave a person. It is evident that consciousness alone unites actions into the same person. Whatever has the consciousness of the present and past actions is the same person it both belong. It is conscious of what actions happened many more years ago that self-consciousness is derived.
Brave officer case
The case is about a 40-year-old brave officer who remembers how he stole apples from a neighbour’s orchard at the age of ten. The case assumes that the officer remembers that he took the enemy’s standard as a brave officer when he was 80 years old but does not remember stealing neighbour’s apples. In such case, Reid suggests that Locke’s account of personal identity would not follow the right path as the general would not be identical to the apple stealer. The general would not have the memory of the apple stealer meaning there is no transitivity of the identity relation. The problem posed by this case is that Locke’s identification of personal identity is not based on substance. The theory does not have attributions, and prudential deliberations as personal identity are committed to the correctness of the current actions (Yaffe).
To address the discrepancies, then Locke can explain the connection of memory to own identity. Memory is not a transitive identity as it remains with the person and for this reason, it is a contributor to personal identity. It is clear that wherein substance may not define personal identity, the Socrates agree with the fact that identity of consciousness is the same person. For instance, if a person is sleeping he is not the same person as consciousness is different. The second issue is that Absolute oblivion separates what is forgotten from the person but not from the man. Although it is possible for the same individual to have incommunicable self-consciousness at a different age, it is only the doubt that the individual has that would make him different at different times. In the same way, it is applied where human law does not punish a mad man for the sober man’s actions. It said that the person is not himself, but that does not mean that the selfsame person was no longer in that man (Locke 47).
Butler, J. The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature, London: J. and P. Knapton, 2nd corrected edition, 1736.
Locke, John. “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), II. xxvii. 15,”.” Of Ideas of Identity and Diversity.” From the Everyman edition abridged and edited by John Yolton (London: JM Dent and Sons, 1977).
Ward, Andrew. “Reid on Personal Identity: Some Comparisons with Locke and Kant.” Reid studies 3.2 (2000): 55-64.
Yaffe, Gideon. “Beyond the Brave Officer: Reid on the Unity of the Mind, the Moral Sense, and Locke’s Theory of Personal Identity.” Reid on Ethics. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2010. 164-183.